Samantha Brick, you think you’ve got it bad eh? PAH. Try being Evan Dando. This is a man that has spent the past 20 years being vilified for being ridiculously good looking. At the time of grunge, self loathing and skag, the music press balked at the idea that any kind of angst could lie beneath those luscious locks. They painted him as a stoner pop prince, relegated to contending with ‘frightful’ screamagers and doing the ‘Biscuit Tin’ questions in Smash Hits, not to be taken seriously like King Kurt. Maybe it was his own fault, with his undying love for Abba as well as Black Sabbath and his tendency to coo and goof for the cameras, Dando was a beguiling prospect for the music press.
Thankfully, teenage girls know a thing or two about pop (see the Beatles) and took The Lemonheads to their hearts playing their seminal album It’s A Shame About Ray until the tape warped and waited for the boys to catch up. When they did they realised that it wasn’t all sunshine and spliffs in Dando world, if anything It’s A Shame About Ray squashes more anguish and apathy into its 30 minutes than Billy Corgan managed to do in his whole career.
It’s his unnerving knack for creating effervescent melodies which bloom sadness and heartbreak that attracts the half stunned crowd in the Academy. Breezily knocking out a selection of acoustic numbers from ‘Being Around’ to Victoria William’s heart scorching ‘Frying Pan’ it’s heads down and on with the show. With hardly a chance to take a breath or grab a tissue, Chuck and Fred join him to hurtle us headlong down memory lane for the full performance of It’s A Shame About Ray. Blitzing through ‘Rockin’ Stroll’ and ‘Confetti’ at lightning speed it would seem that Evan is on autopilot, churning out the hits till he can exit the stage. It’s only when they hit the title track that the pace is slowed and buttocks are unclenched but the true magic has yet to happen.
For all its knockabout charms the real beauty of the album lies in its dingier elements. The bleakness of a life under the shadow of addiction, the pool of sadness shored up from parental marital problems to private relationship breakdowns. As Evan hollers out the repeated refrain of ‘hope in my past’ from the aching, anxiety ridden ‘Rudderless’, he is exorcising all our past demons in the darkness, our teenage dreams half remembered but not fully erased. There is a rush of communal memories echoing out through the crowd which is finally acknowledged from the stage with a genuine smile and a brief pause. From there on Evan truly awakens to deliver a soul squelching version of ‘My Drug Buddy’ and the blissed out beauty of ‘Turnpike Down’, every song a greatest hit, every pure, distilled thought leaving Ryan Adams on the balcony scratching his head in wonderment. In that triptych lies the albums essence, the loneliness, the rawness, the unique bravery of exposing the worst of himself, they are the albums bleeding heart, completed with the bruising ‘Hannah & Gabi’ there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
What Dando is trying to achieve with this nostalgia fest is anybody’s guess, nary a newer song is performed, maybe he’s delivering the album back to those who once screamed and who can now nod in agreement, for the bedroom boys too shy to say they were a fan or the ones that missed it all first time around, showcasing what is now with blessed hindsight believed to be one of the defining albums of that era.
Whatever the reasons, that fact that he is able to reach into a back catalogue that features such faultless pop moments as ‘Down About It’, ‘Hospital’ and the mesmeric ‘Mallo Cup’ makes us grateful to have his music as a soundtrack to our lives no matter how shiny his hair is.
Photo by Sean Conroy.